State Sen. Darren Soto missed a critical partisan floor vote in February because he went to Washington D.C. where he attended fundraising activities, but his U.S. Congress election campaign said Soto did so because he had a unique opportunity to discuss Puerto Rico with principal members of Congress.

Soto’s Feb. 23 trip to Washington D.C., was taken so that he could meet with several Hispanic congressional Democrats to discuss potential federal responses to Puerto Rico’s debt crisis and economic crisis, his campaign said Friday.

The trip meant Soto, a Democrat, had to skip a floor vote on one of the session’s more contentious and partisan issues, Senate Bill 250, which would have required equal child custody by both parents in divorce cases. The bill passed that day with a mostly partisan split, 23-15, but it eventually died, replaced with another bill that passed and was then vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

Soto had voted no twice previously on SB 250 in committees, finding himself on the losing sides of partisan splits. He also voted no on Senate Bill 668, the custody bill that eventually passed and then got vetoed.

Soto is in a tough Democratic primary battle for the nomination to run in Congressional District 9, which has the largest portion of Central Florida’s big Puerto Rican population. Among his Democratic opponents are Susannah Randolph, Dr. Dena Minning, Valleri Crabtree and Ricardo Rangel.

Soto chose the chance to talk Puerto Rico over casting the floor vote, his campaign said. He sought and received Senate President Andy Gardiner‘s permission to miss the date, with a request for an excuse for the absence that stated, “I will be out of the state at that time on district matters.”

His campaign said Puerto Rico is a significant district matter in his Senate District 15, which includes the heart of Central Florida’s Puerto Rican community.

“Sen. Darren Soto had a unique opportunity to meet with several leaders in Congress regarding the Puerto Rican debt crisis that is substantially affecting his Senate district through the relocation of many of his fellow Puerto Ricans,” his congressional campaign manager Christine Biron explained in a statement. “This Session, he was honored to bring back $4M in additional public school construction dollars and pass a resolution encouraging Congress to promote economic recovery to address this crisis both at home and on the island.”

There also was a big fundraiser in Washington the night of Feb. 23, for U.S. Rep. Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat who has endorsed Soto. Soto’s campaign did not deny he may have participated in fundraising activities in Washington, but did not explicitly say he attended Becerra’s event.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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